Several months ago, a friend asked me the origin of the word India and �Hindu�. That question spurred this brief piece of research.
Most experts agree today that the name �India� was derived from the river Indus (in today�s Pakistan). But the name �Indus� itself has a fascinating history behind it.
In ancient times, the entire Indus river system (along with its seven tributaries – Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej, Jhelum, Beas and the now extinct River Saraswati[i]) and the area it covered, used to be called �Sapta Sindhu[ii]� i.e. the land of seven rivers (�Sindhu� means river in Sanskrit).
The word �Sindhu� not only referred to the river system and adjoining area but also became the label to denote the culture that had developed along its valleys (In fact, continuing archaeological evidence suggests that the �Indus Valley Civilization� should more accurately be called the Saraswati-Sindhu Civilization considering the land mass where it developed).
The corruption of �Sindhu� into �Hindu� can be traced back to journeys made by early Persian explorers from the Northwest who due to the peculiarities of their own language aspirated the �S� sound in �Sindhu� to make the word �Hindu�
Thus to world beyond, the area around the Saraswati-Sindhu rivers and its culture became to be known as the area of �Hindus� (thus the name Hindustan which literally means the land of �Hindus�)
This nomenclature stuck and became particularly prevalent after the invasion and conquest of �India� by Mughals. The Mughals (based on the earlier Persian terminology) used the term �Hindu� to refer to the original inhabitants of the land and this label became the way to distinguish native/indigenous/ancient culture form that of the invaders.
About 2500 years ago, when the Greeks first reached the river plains of Punjab, they borrowed the name of the region from the Persians and simply modified it to �Indos�. �Indos� later morphed into �Indus� in Latin � by which name the river is still known in the West. The Romans began to call the whole land mass after this river and thus the name �India� came to stay � which has been the form used by Europeans over the ages.
It is clear from the above that the word �Hindu� simply meant (someone living in India) “Indian” or (something) related to India.
The term Hindu did not signify any religion or set of religious beliefs but was really a label for a specific landmass. At best the word simply implied someone associated with (or dwelling in) the geographical area the boundaries of which were roughly covered by the Saraswati-Sindhu rivers and their tributaries.
In the words of Dr Morales, �the term “Hindu” is not a term that is inherent to the religion itself. Rather, the term is known to have been first coined by the ancient Persians, who were culturally, religiously, and perspectively extrinsic to the culture. The term was first used by these ancient Persians in order to conveniently designate the ancient Vedic spiritual culture, and was mistakenly used to refer to the Vedic religion as primarily a geographic and ethnic phenomenon, more than as a religio-philosophical world-view.To the ancient Persians, the word �Hindu� simply referred to the culture, people, religion and practices of the peoples who lived on the other side of the Sindhu River. In the ancient Avestan Persian language ‘s’ grammatically became ‘h’. Thus, the Persians pronounced the name of this river �Hindhu�, rather than �Sindhu�. Thus, ironically, the currently used word �Hindu� is itself a corruption of the Persian word �Hindhu�, which is in turn a corruption of the term �Sindhu�, which is itself only referring to a river, and not a religion! Thus when the word �Hindu� is used today to refer to the ancient religion of India, the term is in actuality a corruption of a corruption of a word whose meaning is irrelevant to begin with.In his essay, �Word as a Weapon�, Dr Morales has further examined the labels �Hindu� (and �Hinduism�) and suggested alternative terms.In my review of his essay, http://hindu_dharma.blogspot.com/2005/11/excerpts-from-word-as-weapon.html, I had offered the following suggestion, which I believe is even more relevant today:Let us henceforth decide to refer to ancient Indian achievements as Hindu achievements (which is what they are). And let us all insist on calling our religions �Sanatana Dharma� rather than a sterile �Hinduism�.
�Bharat�, that is India
India�s �official� name is Bharat � and this is accorded equal primacy as the word India in the Constitution. In fact the First Clause of the Constitution begins with the words, �India, that is Bharat�.
There is a general mis-conception that India (or to be more accurate, �Bharat�) as a nation did not exist until the British brought hundreds of princely states and fiefdoms under central rule. This is false and historically inaccurate � those of you who have read History would be aware that Samrat Ashok�s kingdom probably had the largest expanse of land of any kingdom in ancient times and of course included almost all of the Indian sub-continent � i.e. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and parts of neighbouring states such as Nepal and Afghanistan.
In the words of Shri Srinivasan Kalyanaraman, �For those who think that the nation of Bharat is a British creation, they should be reminded about Rigveda verse by Vis’vamitra RV 3.53.12: vis’va_mitrasya raks.ati brahmedam bharatam janam, (this mantra of Vis’vamitra will protect the nation of the people of Bharatam). In Tamil bharatam (written pa_ratam) refers to the Hindu ra_s.t.ra. ” http://hindu_dharma.blogspot.com/2006/02/india-that-is-bharat.html
There are also references in ancient literature, including the �Bhagavad-Gita� to large parts of the landmass that we now call India, as �Bharat� or �Bharatavarsha�. See e.g. an article written by Shri Bhatnagar at http://humnri.com/HumZ/Articles/Article.aspx?number=15181
��from Scanto V of Srimad Bhagavatam -Chapter 19 -The description of Jambudwipa concluded:
The people of Bharatavarsa touch with their body too the water of these rivers, which purify them by their very names.(17)Candravasa Tamraparni, Avatoda, Krtamala, Vaihayasi, Kaveri, Veni, Payaswini, Sarkaavarta, Tungabhadra, Krsna, Venya, Bhimarathi, Godavari, Nirvindhya, Payosni, Tapi, Reva, Surasa, Narmada Carmanvati (and) Sindhu, two big rivers — Andha (Brahmaputra) and Sona (Sone) — Mahanadi, Vedasmrti, Rsikulya, Trisama, Kausiki, Mandakini, Yamuna, Saraswati, Drsadvati, Gomati, Sarayu, Rodhaswati Saptavati, Susoma, Satadru, Candrabhaga, Marudvrdha, Vitasta, Asikni (and) Viswa are (the names of) the principal rivers.(18)
But all this would be irerelevant if we ourselves forget our name � so let us make an effort to remember (and to make others aware) that India does have an indigenous name � �Bharat� � and let us be proud of it.
See also this comment explaining the origin of the word, “BhArat” (the real name for India)